Be Mobile to Keep Up with the Whitetail Rut
The rut — a magical time every bowhunter thinks about, talks about and dreams about the entire year! It’s when many of us use our hard-earned vacation days, hoping to capitalize on a brutish old buck with heavy antlers and a swelled neck as he trots past our perch in pursuit of an estrous doe.
Many times, however, the reality of the rut simply doesn’t match our expectations, and we are left stuck in a “rut” of our own. After all, we are supposed to be hunting animals that are out of their minds with testosterone, running frantically all over creation in a desperate search for the next receptive mate. Given that, why do we sooften find ourselves in the same, old stands in the same, old places, scratching our heads and wondering where the rut went? Where are all the deer? Is the rut even in yet? Is it in its lockdown phase? Did I miss it?
Perhaps the answer to all these questions is as simple as staying mobile and keeping up with the bucks as they chase and breed does. In this article, I’ll explain why Ibelieve being mobile is THE best way to score on your next rutting buck.
Albert Einstein famously said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. With this in mind, let’s think about our previous rut-hunting experiences. Time and again, I hear bowhunters from all across the country complain about the rut being a complete disaster for them. That seems odd, as the rut is the time when most of the biggest bucks are killed, right? Yep, statistics show that it sure is. So, why do some bowhunters succeed during the rut while others are left bewildered and deflated? I believe it all boils down to how we hunt. In short, if we don’t employ mobile hunting techniques that allow us to keep up with what the deer are doing at that moment, we’ll be left behind.
Contrary to popular belief, the rut is not a sprint; rather, it is a marathon that lasts for five or six weeks before repeating when does that were not bred on their first estrous cycle come back into heat, resulting in what is commonly referred to as the “second rut.” This longer time period is typically divided into pre-rut, breeding and post-rut phases. All of these are different, requiring different bowhunting tactics to maximize the odds of success.
What this means on a practical level is that the red-hot stand on the oak flat covered with scrapes in October probably won’t be a red-hot stand during peak breeding in mid-November. In my opinion, focusing on food sources and buck beds is a great pre-rut strategy, but once breeding begins you are better off focusing on known doe bedding areas and pinch points that concentrate buck travel between them. Food sources will once again become key during the post-rut, though not necessarily the same food sources that were so attractive to the deer back in October. As you can see, this is why being mobile with our treestand setups is so important.
When I first started studying how mature bucks move during the rut, I quickly realized how fast things can change from day to day and area to area. One minute, a farm or woodlot can be on fire due to a hot doe in the area. Bucks will be everywhere, chasing her and fighting among themselves in an effort to become the lucky buck that gets to breed. This makes for some incredible hunting, because bucks from all over will smell her estrous scent and come to investigate. However, once that doe is bred or moves off the property, the action can be just as ice cold as it was red hot. At this point, we are left with two options: stay put and hope a buck (or another hot doe) comes through or move to the next hotspot and get right back in the game!
My success killing mature bucks in November really took off after I finally invested in a high-quality, mobile stand setup that allowed me to change locations quickly and quietly in order to keep up with the deer. My thought process was simple: Instead of hunting out of ladder stands and heavy hang-ons that couldn’t easily be moved by myself, I would use a lightweight climbing stand or lightweight hang-on with portable climbing sticks. This is also one of the major reasons the popularity of tree saddles is booming right now, as a saddle setup is hard to beat when it comes to portability and the ability to climb and hunt from just about any tree in the woods.
This switch to a mobile mindset freed me from my fixed-position stands and allowed me to move from day to day or even hour to hour. If I hunted a farm and didn’t see what I was looking for, I moved. If the wind unexpectedly switched in the middle of the day, I moved. Sometimes, I would just put a stand on my back and head out on a scouting mission until I found hot sign and then set up right there. I was sick of being behind the 8-ball and not staying on top of buck activity.
I remember one year I kept seeing bucks use a creek bottom on the north end of a farm I hunted regularly. I had never before witnessed that kind of movement in that bottom during the rut, but after seeing three different bucks run through it in an hour, I knew I had to get there fast! So, I climbed down, packed my sticks on my stand, threw it on my back and, within minutes, was on my way to the creek bottom, looking for my new spot for the remainder of the day. By nightfall, I had seen eight different bucks that day and shot one of them! None of this would have happened without my mobile treestand setup and the willingness to adapt on the fly.
The key to being successful during the rut is figuring out what the bucks are doing currently and what their next move will be. If we are always a step behind the bucks, it will sure be hard to catch up to one and get an arrow into him!
Starting in mid-October, I like to set up trail cameras on scrapes and heavily used travel corridors I’ve already identified. Once these cameras start showing a lot of scraping activity and buck movement during daylight, I know the pre-rut is in full swing and bucks are starting to travel. This allows me to start thinking ahead about where I’ll want to hunt. For example, on Oct. 28 one year, I noticed in reviewing my trail-camera images that a particular buck had visited a scrape line right before dark two evenings in a row. The next afternoon, Oct. 29, I packed in with a hang-on stand and killed that buck as he headed to those scrapes!
Once I know the bucks are checking and using scrapes and moving more in daylight, I feel confident that doe bedding areas, funnels and food sources where does are feeding will be great stand locations for future hunts. Then it’s simply a matter of finding a hot area where the sign is showing buck traffic and then getting into a tree! Sometimes, putting boots on the ground and a stand on your back is the best bet for finding that hot new spot, and this mobile system allows you to do so.
When I see less daylight movement and declining scrape activity (via cameras and with my own eyes while hunting), I know that the lockdown, or breeding phase, is happening. Once again, I’ll need to change my stand setups accordingly. Be open-minded, consider what your trail cameras and your own observations are telling you, and then make an educated guess on where to hunt next. Maybe it’s a freshly picked cornfield where a ton of does have been feeding. Or maybe it’s a secret funnel you found in the timber with fresh rubs, indicating good buck traffic.
This method will keep us in fresh spots all season long and prevent us from getting into a rut of our own. Invest your efforts in a mobile hunting mindset this fall, and I’m sure you’ll see more bucks and better results.